2009: The Year in
To those who claim the horror story/novel is dead--or the horror
novel is worn out, or fiction in general is dead, or whatever--I’ve got
this to say: you haven’t been paying attention! For proof, check out the
following, comprising the latest installment of my annual Year in Horror
Year in Horror film pieces, I haven’t
ranked the books I read in order of good, bad or whatnot. I feel a more
organic structure is in order, although (as usual) I will be starting
out with my vote for Book of the Year.
Obviously I wasn’t able to read every
horror-themed book published in 2009 (publications I missed include
DROOD by DAN SIMMONS, DRACULA THE UN-DEAD by DACRE
STOKER and HIS FATHER’S SON by BENTLEY LITTLE). This
is nonetheless my longest and most inclusive Year in Horror Fiction list
to date, reflecting my (somewhat) elevated status among writers and
Yes, believe it or not, many important
people are actually paying attention to my writing (temporary
insanity, perhaps?), which has resulted in a veritable flood of
review copies. In fact, I can honestly say that over the past year I had
more review requests than I could handle. If you happened to be among
those authors/publishers whose work I didn’t get to I apologize, but I
simply didn’t have time--this isn’t a complaint, mind you, simply a fact
With that, let’s being the survey with:
The Book of the Year
That would be THE COMPLETE SHORT STORIES OF J.G.
BALLARD (W.W. Norton). This massive 1216-page volume has been
available in the UK for the past couple years, but only made it to these
shores following its author’s 2009 death. If you’re unfamiliar with the
bizarre, provocative, disarmingly prophetic and thoroughly addictive
fiction of J.G. Ballard (whose writing inspired the films EMPIRE OF THE
SUN, CRASH and
EXHIBITION) than this book, containing every story the great
man ever wrote, is a perfect starting point. It’s also ideal for people
like me who’ve been scouring used bookstores in an effort to track down
Ballard’s stories, some of which are quite elusive. Not anymore!
Speaking of iconic genre authors, let’s move on to…
STEPHEN KING’S latest novel is
UNDER THE DOME
(Scribner), a lively and readable 1074-page(!) opus.
The premise is quite simple, positing that a vast
invisible enclosure suddenly covers the sleepy community of Chester’s
Mills one morning. The dome is impervious to bullets, airplanes and even
a missile fired at it from outside, meaning there’s no way out for the
unfortunate people trapped within.
Among those caught under the dome are Barbie, an Iraq
veteran turned fry cook; Julia, the muckraking editor of the local
newspaper; Big Jim, a slimy meth-dealing politician; and Junior, the
latter’s psychotic offspring. Also afoot are the dome’s mysterious
architects, but this portion is left somewhat murky, as if King realized
there was no way to adequately explain his fantastic concept.
There’s also an ecological metaphor, with the air in
the dome dirtied by the pollutants released into the enclosed
atmosphere. In the end, of course, UNDER THE DOME works simply because
it’s fun. King knows how to spin a yarn, and proves that here, providing
thrills, scares, some romance, a few scattered laughs and even a message
As for Stephen King’s other 2009 release,
STEPHEN KING GOES TO THE MOVIES (Pocket), it’s a bit of a bummer. It
consists of five short stories and novellas all readily available
elsewhere, with just eleven pages of new material. Those eleven pages
consist of King’s thoughts on the films made from the stories--as the
title attests, the theme is movies and the fiction that inspired them.
Of those five stories, “The Mangler” and “Children of
the Corn” are quite good. So are “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank
Redemption” and “1408.” However, the inclusion of the lengthy first
chapter of HEARTS IN ATLANTIS is downright mind-boggling, especially
since King claims he was dissatisfied with the film adaptation because
it only told a portion of the complete story. So why reprint that
portion here? Why not use the space for other worthy King stories that
have been made into movies (including “The Mist,” “Apt Pupil” and “The
Body”) but don’t appear herein?
My advice? Skip STEPHEN KING GOES TO THE MOVIES and
read the other books containing these stories (NIGHT SHIFT, DIFFERENT
SEASONS, EVERYTHING’S EVENTUAL and HEARTS IN ATLANTIS). Trust me, you’ll
be glad you did.
Seemingly everyone has praised CHRISTOPHER
RANSOM’S THE BIRTHING
HOUSE (St. Martin’s Press) to the skies, and after
reading it I’ll have to say that for once everyone is right. It’s a
first novel of uncommon nuance and conviction, with a probing
intelligence and depth of characterization that aren’t supposed to be
able to co-exist with supernatural scares.
It begins in traditional haunted house fashion, with
Conrad Harrison, a disaffected young man, buying a century-old Wisconsin
birthing house. Conrad’s wife Joanna doesn’t share his enthusiasm for
the abode, and takes a job that whisks her away for several weeks. Thus
Conrad is left alone in the birthing house, where he’s given a gift by
the previous owner: a vintage photo album packed with moldering pictures
of the many pregnant ladies who previously stayed in the place…whose
ranks include the glowering face of Conrad’s wife!
Much of the narrative pivots on real world
concerns--the pratfalls of adjusting to a new environment, the hardships
of dual-income marriages and long distance relationships--alternated
with supernatural intrusions that are vivid and disquieting. The novel
for the most part qualifies as a work of “quiet” horror marked by a
sense of sustained apprehension, yet the climax is a profoundly intense
one in which the twin specters of demonic possession and bloody
psychosis rise to the fore.
Another standout publication by a debuting
novelist was HATER
by DAVID MOODY (St. Martin’s Press). It uses the age-old concept
of ordinary folks turned into rage-driven killers and actually succeeds
in making it seem fresh.
Londoner Danny McCoyne has problems: he’s stuck working
in the Parking Fines Processing Office, where irate citizens show up to
gripe about getting ticketed or having their car wheels clamped. Danny’s
home life isn’t much better, as his wife is a shrew and his two kids are
brats. It seems all-too-easy for a guy to go over the edge in such dire
circumstances, especially since an epidemic is sweeping London, and
apparently the rest of the world, that turns people into remorseless
killers--or Haters. But the Haters don’t seem entirely hateful in their
aggression, behaving as if they’re the ones being attacked.
The early passages, with their undertones of simmering
rage and none-too-quiet desperation, are disarmingly prophetic. A
perverse echo occurs in the final chapters, in which a shocking
narrative turnaround propels this dark tale into genuinely subversive
For those of you who like your horrific
thrillers heavy on the horror, AFRAID (Grand Central Publishing),
written by cop thriller specialist J.A. Konrath under the debuting
pseudonym JACK KILBORN, is for you. It’s a dark wilderness set
freak-out in the mold of David Morrell’s early novels, with five
psychotic killers transformed into computer modified Red Ops fighters
loosed on a sleepy Northeastern town. Lots and lots of colorful carnage
ensues as the psychopaths embark on a veritable carnival of mass
slaughter. Not even a squadron of other special forces teams can take
them down, leaving it up to a few scattered townspeople to deal with the
psychos on their own.
Relentless is the word for this novel, which keeps the
tension brewing with nasty killings and show-stopping action set pieces
at a rate of about one every page-and-a-half. It’s a fast and compulsive
read that’s also genuinely scary: the concept may be on the high
side, but it doesn’t seem all that implausible based on the things I’ve
heard about the US military and its compulsive implementation of new
technologies, many of them of a questionable variety.
A take-no-prisoners gut-punch of a novel you won’t soon
Here we come to an epic horror novel
marketed as a genre masterpiece that reinvents the vampire mythos for a
new generation. Is it THE HISTORIAN? Nope. MIDNIGHT MASS? No. THE
VAMPIRE TAPESTRY? Not that. INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE? No again. It’s
THE STRAIN (William Morrow), the first novel by filmmaker
GUILLERMO DEL TORO (although I’m guessing the majority of the text
was written by the more experienced co-writer CHUCK LOGAN).
It’s drafted in tried-and-true bestseller fashion, with
a myriad of characters caught up in a vampire conflagration that begins
when a plane lands in New York City whose pilots and passengers are all
apparently dead. In fact they’ve been vampirized, and are set to be the
inception of a bloodsucking epidemic that will soon encompass New York
City. Leading the anti-vampire resistance are a plucky disease control
employee, his ex-wife and a holocaust survivor who’s been tracking the
vampires’ leader since first encountering the thing back in the death
camps. It all boils down to a violent showdown at the World Trade Center
foundation (a.k.a. the “Bathtub”) and a fade-out that leaves ample room
for a sequel (THE STRAIN being the first book of a projected trilogy).
The vamps in this novel were conceived in distinctly
biological terms, complete with a Cronenbergian tongue attachment that
lashes out at people and spreads the disease. An interesting concept,
yes, but hardly Earth-shaking. As for the novel overall, it’s not bad by
any means, being fast, entertaining and action-packed--but NOT the
classic for the ages it’s been made out to be.
Among the many sequels that appeared in ‘09 was
HEAD GAMES, the second volume of the JOE HILL scripted,
GABRIEL RODRIGUEZ illustrated comic series LOCKE AND KEY (IDW).
It picks up where 2008’s first installment WELCOME TO
LOVECRAFT left off: with the traumatized Locke children attempting to
settle into life in the town of Lovecraft(!).
The Lockes still have those neat keys that (as
elucidated in WELCOME TO LOVECRAFT) open doors into supernatural realms.
Here, though, the keys actually open the tops of the kids’ heads,
letting others peer into their private worlds. This is by far the most
arresting concept of this volume, and allows illustrator Gabriel
Rodriguez--whose bold artwork is stellar--to run riot with
The head-opening idea is so cool it dwarfs virtually
everything else herein, notably the return of WELCOME TO LOVECRAFT’S
psychotic antagonist, who murdered the protagonists’ father and is on
the loose once again. The latter has got hold of a time traveling key he
uses to make all sorts of trouble, but his exploits are confusing and
difficult to follow. The book further suffers from an abrupt and
puzzling conclusion (upon reading the words “The End” I was sure it was
a joke or misprint). Again, though, HEAD GAMES’ central conceit is a
stunner, even if the comic overall doesn’t live up to it.
ESCAPE FROM HELL by LARRY NIVEN
and JERRY POURNELLE (Tor) is the long-awaited follow-up to Niven
and Pournelle’s 1976 classic
INFERNO. That book remains an
invigorating jaunt through Dante’s Inferno, with the deceased sci fi
writer Allen Carpenter traversing the nine circles of Hell, guided by an
individual named Benito who eventually reveals himself as none other
than Benito Mussolini. Carpenter becomes convinced that Hell is actually
a training ground for wayward souls; he proves this (or seems to) by
guiding Benito out of Hell, and on the final page heads back to save
In ESCAPE FROM HELL Carpenter tries to make good on his
goal to lead Hell’s denizens out. Doing so entails retracing the path
Carpenter took in the original book, reconnecting with many of its cast
members and encountering quite a few new obstacles.
The style is virtually identical to that of INFERNO,
with the emphasis on action and sensation. ESCAPE, though, is longer
than the earlier book, and less cohesive. Billy the Kid returns from
INFERNO, as does Lucifer himself. The poet Sylvia Plath (introduced here
as a living tree) is also on hand to join Carpenter’s crusade, along
with Carl Sagan, Oscar Wilde, Anna Nicole Smith, J. Robert Oppenheimer,
Pontius Pilate, and (in a last-minute cameo) Josef Stalin and Adolf
Hitler. The 9/11 attacks, the Iraq War and Hurricane Katrina are all
alluded to, and while the authors are famous for their conservative
views, you may be surprised by their takes on these and other real-life
BRIAN LUMLEY’S Necroscope series,
commenced in the late eighties and numbering over a dozen volumes, is
officially finished, but in
NECROSCOPE: HARRY AND THE PIRATES
(Tor) Lumley offered three short pieces set during the “Lost
Years” of Harry Keogh the Necroscope (i.e. a guy who can talk to
the dead). Lumley is an extremely prolific English writer who got his
start publishing H.P. Lovecraft-inspired pastiches. He’s retained the
Lovecraft influence and the pulpiness that comes with it, as is evident
in HARRY AND THE PIRATES.
It begins with “For the Dead Travel Slowly.” In it
Harry investigates a series of murders committed by an ancient Cthuloid
monstrosity. The tale is overlong and dragged out; we’re informed on the
first page who the culprit is, which makes the remainder of the piece
something of a waiting game for Harry to figure out what we already
know. “Harry and The Pirates” follows, being a witty tribute to the
seafaring horror of William Hope Hodgson. Finally there’s a 4-pager
called “Old Man with A Blade,” about a certain indistinct man with a
long curved blade who views all humanity as potential victims, and is an
“old friend” of Harry Keogh…
Make no mistake, the Japanese pulp quickie
WICKED CITY: BLACK GUARD by HIDEYUCHI KIKUCHI (Seven Seas)
is complete and utter trash: simple minded, perfunctorily written and
wildly misogynistic. Is it any wonder I enjoyed the Hell out of it? (Full
Disclosure: I’m a fan of the manga and live action film adapted from
this book, and so was primed to like it.)
Reading like a trashy redo of the Russian WATCH series
etc.), WICKED CITY is about a netherworld of demons whose universe
intersects with ours. The demons appear in our reality as sex-mad humans
whose flesh melts and metamorphoses in all sorts of freaky ways, leading
to lots of arrestingly bizarre
H.R. Giger-esque imagery. There’s also
a good deal of perversion. The hero, a stiff-lipped “Black Guard”
charged with keeping the demons in line, gets down and dirty with the
creatures on several occasions, as does his partner, a demon woman who
naturally loves being penetrated by anything with a penis.
The author bio equates Hideyuki Kikuchi (best known for
the VAMPIRE HUNTER D series) with Stephen King. That’s an extremely
generous comparison, but in unpretentious readability and gross-out
surrealism Kikuchi excels. Apparently a second WICKED CITY volume is on
the way, and I for one can’t wait!
HELL by YASUTAKA TSUTSUI (Alma
Press) is a very odd, and very culturally specific, look at Hell.
There’s no fire and brimstone in this inferno, which functions as a vast
waking dream whose inhabitants are able to move back and forth through
time and telepathically experience each other’s thoughts and memories.
The novel interweaves the exploits of several Japanese
folk who’ve landed in Hell by flashing back and forth, unexpectedly and
seemingly haphazardly, between present and flashback. Among the
characters are three men, friends since childhood, and their respective
wives and mistresses. There’s also a famous writer and his actress
companion (who realize where they are only after a descending elevator
they’re trapped in stops on floor 666) and a homeless man who comes to
in Hell after freezing to death along with his beloved wife.
Adding to the oddness is Yasutaka Tsutsi’s disarmingly
relaxed prose, which relates everything from an intense torture sequence
to a seemingly mundane train ride with the same calm, even-handed tone.
The novel is short and easy to read, yet a full understanding requires
some heavy lifting on the part of the reader. I’m sure this will
severely curtail its potential audience. I don’t know that I liked it
all that much myself, yet its enigmas did seem worth decoding--or at
HELLBOUND HEARTS, edited by PAUL KANE and MARIE
O’REGAN (Pocket), is an anthology inspired by
HELLRAISER. With a stable of first-rate authors that include
Neil Gaiman, Tim Lebbon, Christopher Golden, Sarah Langan and Gary
Braunbeck, you can count on a good read at the very least.
I’m not entirely sure, however, that all the
contributors understand what makes the material interesting. Quite a few
of these 21 stories have a similar arc: a guy or gal commits some
horrific crime out of grandiose ambition, villainy or plain stupidity,
and is dragged off to Hell by the monstrous Cenobites in the final
pages. Well and good…except for the fact that, as you may recall, that
was where HELLRAISER began.
Some of the contributors get it. Mark Morris’ “Mother’s
Ruin” is genuinely dark and surprising, concerning a socially
maladjusted sad sack with a taste for extremes; needless to add, he gets
what he wanted at the hands of the Cenobites! Simon Clark’s riotous “Our
Lord of Quarters” is set in Constantinople of 1401, wherein a slave goes
up against an ambitious demon, while Gary Braunbeck and Lucy Snyder’s
“However…” actually casts the Cenobites as saviors of a sort for a
despairing trio of young people suffering untold torture.
The book’s centerpiece, the graphic tale “Wordsworth”
written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean, is a
disappointment, but “Prisoners of the Inferno” by Peter Atkins
(screenwriter of HELLRAISER 2: HELLBOUND) isn’t. It’s about an obscure
film that leads a collector into a deadly universe of ancient evil.
Finally there’s Barbie Wilde, who played one of the Cenobites of the
original HELLRAISER and contributes “Sister Cilice,” a potent piece of
nunspoloitation. It contains plenty of grotesquerie, and, unlike the
majority of the book’s other tales, doesn’t wait until the end to dish
BLANKET OF WHITE (Damnation
Books) is another rough and uncompromising collection of stories by
AMY GRECH, following 2006’s
APPLE OF MY EYE. Many of the stories
from that book recur (including goodies like “Damp Wind and Leaves,”
“Perishables,” “Rampart,” “Cold Comfort” and “EV 2000”), making this the
lesser of the two volumes.
Of the non-reprints, the title story is pitch-perfect
in its unflinching exploration of a distraught father’s grief at his
daughter’s debilitating cerebral palsy, and the “extraordinary gift” he
gives her. Another stand-out is “Come and Gone,” a distinctly carnal
evocation of longing and memory with generous helpings of sex,
masturbation and bloodletting.
“Russian Roulette” is about the violent revenge enacted
by a murdered woman’s ex husband. It contains some potent shocks,
although the arc is predictable. “Crosshairs” is better, being a grim
account of a boy who takes his father’s advice about hunting a little
too far. Less nasty is “Ashes to Ashes,” an unexpectedly tender tale of
a woman’s attempts at coming to terms with the death of her husband.
Good stuff, but again, most of the rest of BLANKET OF WHITE consists of
contents from APPLE OF MY EYE, meaning you might as well read that book
in place of this one.
AROUND A DARK CORNER by JEANI
RECTOR (Turner Maxwell Books) followed fast on the heels of Ms.
Rector’s previous collection
OPEN GRAVE. That book for me remains
her most resonant, but AROUND A DARK CORNER made quite an impression.
“The Dead Man” starts things off, consisting largely of
a protracted description of the dismemberment of a corpse. “A Medieval
Tale of Plague” follows, an impeccably researched account of a young
woman’s nightmarish existence in plague-ridden London.
Taken together, the above stories are good indicators
of this book’s considerable range. It contains a tale of demonic
invocation (“The Spirit of Death”), a peek into the mind of murderous
psychopath (“Horrorscope”), a trickily structured werewolf story (“In
Any Language”), an account of a man with a maggot fetish (“Maggots”),
and an uncomfortably intimate description of a plane crash (“Flight
The final entries are two longish tales, “Lady Cop” and
“A Teenage Ghost Story.” The first is a compelling study of a rookie
cop’s brutal induction into some of the uglier realities of her
profession. The second is a gentle look at two teen girls thrust into an
age-old mystery that’s vaguely reminiscent of the young adult novels of
Richard Peck. It all adds up to another memorable volume by an author
I’m confident will become a major voice in the field.
MAGICK AND MISERY by LINCOLN
CRISLER (Black Bed Sheet Books) collects eleven short pieces by a
three-time Iraq War veteran. This explains the impact of these
ostensibly escapist tales, which aren’t unusually graphic or excessive
but have a kick missing from much of today’s horror.
Perhaps I’m wrong in contrasting Lincoln Crisler’s
combat experiences with his fiction. None of the contents of MAGICK AND
MISERY explicitly deal with war, yet its specter is present in “Making
the Grade,” about a schoolboy whose parents literally bet his life on
his usefulness to a corrupt government, and “Old Stooping Lugh,” a
bloody tale of Irish mobsters and a demon marked by copious gunplay and
Violent death is a common element. It’s present in the
perverse Isaac Asimov pastiche “Seymour’s Descent,” about a robot that
learns to kill--and enjoys it! It recurs in “Devotion,” in which a man
attempts to rescind his infidelity to his beloved wife in profoundly
Another stand-out is “Pete Does What Needs to be Done.”
In this sickie a runaway boy gets back at his hated parents by faking a
kidnapping, enhanced by amputating his own hand and mailing it to ’em!
“The Gambler,” by contrast, is a touching account of a traumatized man’s
train-bound meeting with an ex-hobo who’s experienced his own share of
A fine collection, well worth your time.
I’ll confess I didn’t read all of
Gauntlet Press’ CHRISTOPHER CONLON edited anthology HE IS
LEGEND, consisting of all-new stories by famous authors inspired by
the fiction of Richard Matheson. I didn’t bother with Whitley Streiber’s
entry or Matheson’s screenplay adaptation of Fritz Leiber’s CONJURE WIFE
(which concludes this book). However, I did peruse much of the rest of
the collection, and found it solid. Not great, but solid.
The book’s claim to fame is “Throttle,” the first-ever
collaboration between Stephen King and son Joe Hill. It’s a fine, gritty
take on Matheson’s DUEL, with the lone motorist of the original replaced
with a motorcycle gang.
Other standout tales include “Return to Hell House,” in
which Nancy Collins wreaks some perverse twists on Matheson’s HELL
HOUSE; John Shirley’s “Two Shots from Fly’s Photo Gallery,” which uses
the time travel conceit of SOMEWHERE IN TIME for a western tale; and Joe
Lansdale’s “Quarry,” a fun sequel to the legendary evil doll story “Prey.”
Also worthy of mention is “The Diary of Louise Carey” by Thomas F.
Monteleone, which characterizes the underdeveloped character of the
protagonist’s wife in THE SHRINKING MAN as a scheming bitch!
Here I’ll take a look at the 2009 offerings of various
genre publishers, starting with my pick for the year’s Coolest
Leisure, as it has for the past several years, put
out several vital novels in affordable paperback editions. Among its
2009 output was a reprint of JACK KETCHUM’S 1987 roughie COVER.
It’s one of Ketchum’s better efforts, a superbly spare and suspenseful
account of a homicidal Vietnam veteran loose in the American wilderness
with six innocent people in his crosshairs.
Beyond that I’ll say this about COVER: it’s directly
responsible for me dropping a biology course. This is to say that back
in my college days I made the mistake of starting the book the night
before an important exam in said biology course…and was unable to put
the damn thing down. Do read this book, but not before a college
The newest effort from the pioneering
splatmeister JOHN SKIPP was JAKE’S WAKE, written in
collaboration with CODY LONGFELLOW. Like Skipp’s previous novel
THE LONG LAST CALL,
JAKE’S WAKE was initially intended as a movie; this explains the
contained nature of the action, which takes place over the course of a
The title character is a con man preacher whose
innumerable sins include whoring, lying, embezzlement and all manner of
general assholery. Fortunately for his parishioners, Jake has just
died…but then he inexplicably springs back to life and embarks on a
rampage. The narrative from there on is largely taken up with a
minute-by-minute description of the mayhem that ensues, which includes
forced incarceration, eyeball gouging, a crucifixion, a ROAD WARRIOR-esque
highway pile-up and a final apocalyptic twist.
It’s nasty, thrill-a-minute fun for the most part,
drafted in Skipp’s standard hip and profane style. But as the subversive
commentary on modern religion the authors were evidently shooting for
the novel falls short. Its biggest problem is that Jake, the lynchpin of
that commentary, is an overly one-dimensional scumbag, essentially a
stew of meanness and sarcasm in search of a character. Thus JAKE’S WAKE,
enjoyable though it is, never reaches its full potential.
WRATH JAMES WHITE is very likely the
nastiest, most unflinching horror writer at work today. THE
RESURRECTIONIST is far from the most graphic of his works, but it is
very likely the most mature.
Its subject is Dale, an antisocial psychopath with the
“gift” of resurrecting the dead, thus allowing him to kill people and
then revive them. The author’s true concern, however, is the trauma
faced by those on the receiving end of Dale’s psychosis.
The protagonist is Sarah, who’s fated to live across
the street from Dale, and who he rapes and mutilates each night,
followed by the inevitable resurrection. Sarah always comes to with no
memory of the horror, yet the psychic scars left by Dale’s evil are
evident and unmistakable.
The violence here is graphic, certainly, and at times
downright nauseating (particularly toward the end, which contains a
novel variant on the term skull-fucking), but there’s far less of it
than in most of Wrath’s previous novels and stories. This makes for a
less exciting and disturbing read than
POISONING EROS or SUCCULENT PREY, but
what THE RESURRECTIONIST lacks in grue it makes up for in empathy and
Night Shade Press
Of the two Night Shade
Press releases I read in 2009, the unquestioned standout was
HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS
WITH DEMONS. It’s one of the most unique efforts of the
brilliant GRAHAM JOYCE, being a nontraditional character study
centered on William Heaney, a middle-aged government worker who can see
demons. William, you see, conducted a weird occult ritual in college
that exposed him to the realm of the demonic.
The narrative has numerous strands that advance
concurrently, with flashbacks of William’s college-era exploits being
one of them. Another concerns his present activities, which include
preparing a forged first edition of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and puzzling
over the affections of a young woman who for some unfathomable reason
seems interested in William. And then there are the demons, which are
ever-present and not about to go away.
All of this initially seems disjointed, but Joyce
gradually draws it together into what turns out to be a carefully
structured account. Thus we have a novel that’s witty, chilling and
every bit as complex and multi-faceted as its impeccably sketched
I was considerably less enamored of
THE MALL OF CTHULHU
by SEAMUS COOPER. I found this novel quite reminiscent of
William Browning Spencer’s RESUME WITH MONSTERS, and believe me, the
comparison does MALL OF CTHULHU no favors!
It concerns the dorky Ted, who’s stuck laboring in a
corporate coffee chain in Boston. Ted has an impressive pedigree, having
single-handedly killed a gaggle of vampires years earlier. Ted’s
monster-killing skills are called back into play when a nut shoots up
his workplace, leading Ted to a Cthulhu worshipping cult looking to
resurrect the “Old Ones” in a shopping mall located in Providence, RI
(where Cthulhu’s creator H.P. Lovecraft resided).
The whole thing is lightweight to the point of
transparency, and not a little dumb. Comedy and horror aren’t an
especially easy combination to pull off in novels, as MALL OF CTHULHU
proves. Also, you’ll need more than a passing familiarity with H.P.
Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos to fully comprehend this novel--but then,
even for those who know their way around Lovecraft’s mythology (i.e.
me) this is a so-so book at best.
The UK-based PS Publishing is at the forefront of
independent genre publishing. PS’s standout ‘09 releases include
CREATURES OF THE
POOL, the latest novel by the inimitable RAMSEY
The first-person point of view of this highly
atmospheric tale is that of the jittery Gavin Meadows. He gives guided
tours of the “Pool” of the title, specifically Liverpool. Gavin, like
Liverpool native Ramsey Campbell, knows the locale inside and out, and
his knowledge extends to the legends and folklore of the area--which, as
he gradually discovers, may not be entirely legendary. But then again
Gavin could well be losing his mind, judging from the spectral forms he
always thinks he’s seeing and the ceaseless water imagery that pervades
The constant reality displacement is unnerving,
particularly since, this being a first-person account, we have no way of
objectively gauging how reliable Gavin’s viewpoint is. Obviously his
paranoia, suspicion and employment hassles aren’t enough to sustain a
novel, whose main thrust is provided by the disappearance of Gavin’s
eccentric father. Even this development, however, is open to
interpretation: is the old guy truly lost/kidnapped or is this another
of Gavin’s delusions? This is the most Dan Brownish of Campbell’s
novels, with hints of a vast conspiracy and a cliffhanger at the end of
every chapter. So the book, which suffers from a repetitive and
inconclusive narrative, is at least quite readable.
Also from PS was a new work by the great T.M. WRIGHT
entitled BLUE CANOE.
Blindingly eerie and poetic, it’s a rare example of Wright at his most
There’s an odd man named Happy Farmer who resides in a
large house by a lake and is obsessed with “the town named after the
lake,” accessible by a blue canoe. In the meantime Happy is bothered by
the voices of the house’s (apparently) numerous other residents and a
dog he dubs “the-dog-who-would-have-been-Bob-had-he-been-Bob.”
Also afoot is a woman named Epistobel who may be a
ghost or delusional phantasm. Happy himself is nearly as incorporeal,
and the precise realit(ies) being depicted are constantly open to
question, especially when, shortly past the halfway mark, a new
protagonist enters the story: Andrew Grimm, a death-obsessed young man
attempting to track down his estranged lover with the help of an equally
eccentric Private Dick named Fred Spoon. Andrew and/or Fred may actually
be Happy in a previous life…or perhaps not.
For that matter, the tale overall could be the memoir
of an incarcerated madman or a ghost. As in all his 31-plus books, what
Wright is truly after, in his own surreal, poetic fashion, are the
emotions behind the scenery: the love, fear and anxiety his
characters--and by extension his readers--experience.
RICK HAUTALA isn’t one of my favorite
writers, but I can’t deny that he knows how to spin a yarn. Hautala
proves that in REUNION,
a fast moving page-turner that can be taken as a straightforward sci fi-tinged
chiller or (as F. Paul Wilson suggests in his afterward) a deep,
meaningful exploration of loss and longing.
REUNION contains some of Hautala’s shortcomings,
notably an overabundance of clichés: a blown tire is “flat as a pancake”
and there are several variations on that ever-popular genre standby, the
icy chill felt at the base of one’s spine. For the most part, though,
it’s quite good, and at 111 pages is the only Hautala book I’ve read
that I don’t feel is too long (this is an author whose novels tend to
clock in around 500 pages).
The tale begins in a small Northeastern town where the
introspective young Jackie and his troublemaking buddy Chris intend to
crash a nighttime high school reunion. Also afoot in the area is the
fiftyish John, who’s traveled all the way from California to attend the
reunion. It’s clear from the start that John’s intentions involve Jackie
and Chris, both of whom he somehow knows intimately. What ultimately
occurs is scary, sad and thought-provoking, with a not-inconsiderable
If any type of literature can truly be called
critic-proof it’s surrealism, which deliberately violates any number of
hard-and-fast rules of structure and composition, and doesn’t even have
to--shouldn’t, in fact--make sense. To make a distinction as to
whether such writing is good or bad is purely a matter of intuition.
With that in mind, I’ll have to say that based on the nine surreal tales
GLASS COFFIN GIRLS, author PAUL JESSUP definitely
has the touch. Each story reads like it was plucked directly from its
author’s subconscious, with prose that’s crisp and direct.
“Secret in the House of Smiles” starts the book off in
typically atypical fashion with Jack, a nutty college dude who likes to
cut out pieces of women’s bodies from magazines and paste them together
in new configurations, and his vampire (quantum vampire, that is)
hunting girlfriend Alice. Equally representative is the title story, a
nutty take on traditional fairy tale themes involving a cannibal
princess, a dog that walks on two legs and a literal glass coffin.
I’m not entirely sure what to make of “Wire Rabbit,”
which for much of its length reads like an acid trip rewrite of Richard
Matheson’s classic “Born of Man and Woman.” I’m also a little unclear on
the final story “It Tasted Like the Sea,” a troubling account of an
artist serial killer told from the point of view of his traumatized
girlfriend, who tries to escape into a world of fantasy--that’s how I
interpreted it, at least!
ENEMY OF THE GOOD: POSTSCRIPTS 19
is a recent installment of the PETER CROWTHER/NICK GEVERS edited
POSTSCRIPTS anthology series, showcasing horror, science fiction and the
unclassifiable (installments 20 and 21 also followed in ‘09, but I
didn’t get to them).
Daniel Abraham starts things off with the rip-roaring
steam punk offering “Balfour and Meriwether in the Adventure of The
Emperor’s Vengeance.” Following is Andrew Hook’s enjoyable “Bigger Then
The Beetles,” about synthetic frogs that grow really, really big
when placed in water. Scott Edelman’s “The World Breaks” is a bleak look
at America in the wake of a nuclear war, related entirely through
“The Portrayed Man” by Justin Cartaginese has a
terrific TWILIGHT ZONE-ish premise but an unsatisfying ending, while the
title story by Matthew Hughes is a lengthy science fiction piece
involving interstellar thieves and a long-vanished cult. Chris Beckett’s
“The Famous Cave Paintings on Isolus 9” concerns a distant planet and a
series of cave paintings that lead to intriguing speculations on the
nature of religion and reality.
“Famous People” by Ron Savage is notable for its
thoughtful and all-too-realistic look at the pratfalls of stardom. “The
Cacto Skeleton” by David T. Wilbanks has a walking skeleton whose touch
causes people to die, and “The Red King’s Sleep” by Marly Youmans is a
wild, unclassifiable dream tale. The final story is “The Warlock and the
Man” by M.K. Hobson, which reads like the
NIGHT WATCH books/movies transposed to
Wild West America. A good story, and also a good book.
These days it’s become chic to feature the likes of
Edgar Allen Poe,
Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft as protagonists of yarns that
could have sprung from those writers’ own imaginations.
GILBERT AND EDGAR ON
MARS by ERIC BROWN is the first such account
headlined by G.K. Chesterton, the early 20th Century English
It begins with Chesterton lured into a portal that
deposits him on Mars. He’s quickly rescued by a burly American named
Edgar--Edgar Rice Burroughs to be exact, creator of Tarzan and John
Carter of Mars. The latter makes an appearance herein as “a famed and
feared warlord” Edgar is looking to enlist in the fight against the “Six
Philosophers.” The so-called Philosophers have very definite plans for
Gilbert and Edgar, who, it transpires, aren’t the first famous writers
snatched from the green planet.
GILBERT AND EDGAR ON MARS is a spirited romp, opulently
written and full of old world charm. It references Mars-friendly writers
like Ray Bradbury and Philip K. Dick as well as the fiction of its
reality-based protagonists, and does so without sacrificing the sense of
fun and adventure that’s part and parcel to all good pulp fiction.
CAST A COLD EYE by DERRYL MURPHY
and WILLIAM SHUNN is a novella set during an important but
little-explored stretch of American history.
The setting is rural Nebraska circa 1921, a region
devastated by Spanish flu. Among the flu’s victims are the mother and
father of the story’s protagonist, 15-year-old Luke Bryant, who’s having
trouble adjusting to life as an orphan--worse, he always sees graveyard
statues open their stony eyes and watch him every time he sets foot in
the local boneyard.
Luke’s mental state isn’t helped when he’s made the
apprentice of Annabelle Tupper, a spirit photographer. Annabelle
initially seems like a charlatan, at least until her true mission is
revealed: she’s desperately following the trail of her deceased
husband’s wandering spirit. In Luke she’s found an ideal conduit into
the spirit world, as ghosts seem drawn to him, and can always be counted
on to show up in the photos he takes.
I think the conclusion ties everything up a little too
neatly, with Luke and Annabelle finally getting a chance to face up to
and put their respective ghosts to rest, and learning an important
lesson in the process. It’s very Hollywood, and in direct contrast to
the rest of the story, which works largely because of its richness and
Bad Moon Books
First up from the illustrious Bad Moon was
AS FATE WOULD HAVE
IT by MICHAEL LOUIS CALVILLO. Calvillo’s first
novel, 2007’s I WILL
RISE, heralded the arrival of a vastly unpredictable talent.
Calvillo’s second novel AS FATE WOULD HAVE IT more than confirms that
It’s a love story of sorts. On the one hand we have
Ashley, a hardened young woman nursing an unwanted heroin addiction. On
the other is Montgomery, a chef burdened with an all-consuming addiction
of his own: cannibalism. It’s Montgomery’s “problem” that connects these
two individuals in the form of Heather, Ashley’s best friend and
Montgomery’s latest meal. Once Heather goes missing it doesn’t take
Ashley long to deduce the most likely culprit in her
disappearance--Montgomery--and track him down. Montgomery is determined
to put a permanent end to his cannibalistic tendencies, but figures that
with Ashley’s nosiness he might have to break that resolution.
That’s an admittedly thin narrative, but the emphasis
from the start is on character development. Be forewarned, though: this
book plays rough, particularly in the deeply shocking climax wherein
some profoundly nasty surprises wait. The denouement is dark, and
extremely so, but also oddly revelatory, literate and provocative. Not
unlike the book as a whole.
SHADOW OF THE
DARK ANGEL by GENE O’NEILL, I’m not sure we really
need another serial killer novel. It only reinforces my view that
this subgenre has long since been done to death by the likes of Shane
Stevens, Thomas Harris, Rex Miller, etc.
Once again we’re introduced to a human monster,
hideously abused as a child and now on a misogynistic killing rampage.
Once again a determined law enforcement officer--a feisty woman,
following in the footsteps of SILENCE OF THE LAMBS’ Clarice Starling,
KISS THE GIRLS’ Kate McTiernan and THE BONE COLLECTOR’S Amelia Donaghy--is
hell-bent on tracking the killer down. Once again it all comes down to a
cop-killer mano-a-mano, and an extremely hackneyed one (I
wouldn’t dream of revealing who wins).
The unnervingly calm, present-tense prose conveys a
sense of lurking menace, especially in the chapters told (in the second
person) from the killer’s point of view. Unfortunately the story fails
to deliver upon that menace, being a clumsy reinvention of a wheel
that’s already been built, ridden and worn clean.
Thankfully Mr. O’Neill also gave us
DOC GOOD’S TRAVELING SHOW,
an intriguing and absorbing novella set in a minutely
detailed future world with a scope that borders on epic. It’s only 83
pages, yet never feels the slightest bit rushed or compressed.
The story begins in “post-collapse” California near the
“San Fran” ruins. There 22-year-old Drake and his mute younger brother
Littlejoe are looking for employment with a traveling magic show manned
by one Doc Good. Drake and Littlejoe’s not-entirely-illusory “illusions”
(we don’t learn until the final pages the true nature of D & L’s tricks)
become a big hit with the traveling show’s patrons but prove
controversial among its performers, some of whom believe the boys are in
league with Satan. There’s further trouble on the horizon, leading to a
sacrifice--a considerable one--and a daring subterfuge.
It’s a mighty rare case when a novella contains a bit
of everything, but this one comes close. It’s tight, lively and
fulfilling, not unlike a gourmet meal served in a single course.
NECROPOLIS by JOHN URBANCIK
is an extended prose poem masquerading as a horror novella, a wondrously
strange, occasionally gruesome tale.
In the midst of a vast cemetery several eccentric
individuals are caught up in a drama involving murder, sacrifice,
capture and escape. There’s Kelli, a photographer lured into the
cemetery by an unseen flute player; Kevin and Jill, a couple in search
of a wishing well; and Anna and Darren, who are looking to perform a
magical incantation. There’s also a ghostly individual named Auguste and
a malevolent entity known as the Spider-Queen, who’s looking for her
The overall nature of these peoples’ shared predicament
isn’t exactly hard to figure out, although John Urbanicik’s aims aren’t
as cut and dried as they might seem. As one character comments, “Death
comes in layers…you cross one just by being at the cemetery.” Hence the
increasingly surreal exploits of Kelli, Kevin, Jill, Anna and Darren.
NECROPOLIS contains some good creepy-crawly stuff, but
its real virtues are in the dreamlike atmosphere and thoughtful
narrative. The prose is engagingly frank and down-to-Earth, ensuring a
one-sitting read for readers unafraid of fine writing that demands much
and rewards more.
Fans of the British horrormeister SIMON
CLARK will likely appreciate his new novella
THIS GHOSTING TIDE,
which deals with a psychic wave called a “Ghosting Tide” that sweeps the
land and causes the dead to rise. But that’s just one of several ideas
warring for prominence in a book that never quite coalesces into a
It centers on a colorful group of British ghost hunters
investigating an apparently haunted beachfront home, but they’ve barely
begun setting up their equipment when the Ghosting Tide hits and a bunch
of slaughtered rabbits painfully return to life. Where the tale goes
from there I won’t reveal, except to say that a development occurs
that’s so out of left field it might as well have emerged from an
entirely different book.
What follows has a certain B-movie energy, with some
diverting grossness (what is “corpse gloop?”) and a second sweep by the
Ghosting Tide, which this time is far deadlier than before. The
disappointing ending, however, seems on loan from a bad movie.
The concept of time travel is given a
fascinating workout in
THE GRAY ZONE by JOHN R. LITTLE, a powerfully
ominous tale superbly drafted in pointed and precise prose.
It begins in Egypt, circa 1984, where the protagonist
Henry saves a young boy from drowning and is rewarded by the boy’s
father, who gives Henry a powder apparently filched from the tomb of
Ramses II, the “King of Time.” Henry imbibes the powder and is abruptly
thrust back to Montreal of 1982.
This is the beginning of a time-tripping odyssey that
takes Henry to a high point of his childhood and then into the future
year 2002. Before long Henry comes to find the constant jumping between
past and future routine. However, there is a point Henry can’t seem to
penetrate, a “Gray Zone” in the year 2014. Inevitably Henry finds
himself in that Gray Zone, of which no past or future memory
exists. That fact is significant because what occurs is profoundly
horrific and, even worse, can be experienced again and again, each time
with all prior knowledge of the event wiped clean.
THE GRAY ZONE introduces a new concept in time travel
fiction, which usually involves people wanting to change the past. This
is the first such account I’ve read whose hero is content to experience
his past and future as one might a favorite movie--until he’s confronted
with something that completely shatters his complacency. One of the
year’s best and most thought-provoking books!
The final entry from Bad Moon was
THE LUCID DREAMING
by LISA MORTON. In this lively 86-page novella humanity is
overrun by a plague that causes people to dream while awake. The first
person heroine, a trash-talking young woman named Spike, is a paranoid
schizophrenic with delusions of grandeur. Spike starts out locked in an
Oxnard mental hospital--largely because, she claims, she told her
superiors she wanted to be President of the United States--but promptly
She picks up a “new age freakazoid” named Teddy, and
the two make their way through Beverly Hills, Arizona and New Mexico,
only to be halted in “Fucking Texas” by a family of redneck assholes.
The story takes an altogether unexpected turn at this point, with Spike
actually settling down (in a manner of speaking) for a time.
I appreciated Spike’s sassy, world-weary point of view,
which lends the perversely ironic culmination of her odyssey a
satisfying resonance. Without giving anything away, I’ll reveal that
Spike does (sort of) get what she wants, leading to one of the most
memorable final lines I’ve encountered in some time.
The UK’s Creation Books isn’t an especially
prolific publisher, but their books are definitely worth waiting for. In
2009 Creation put out the first-ever English version of EDOGAWA
RAMPO’S 1932 classic
MOJU: THE BLIND BEAST under their Shimbaku imprint.
The protagonist is an ugly-as-sin blind man who’s
learned to subsume his every desire into the act of touching women’s
bodies. He creates a vast exhibit consisting of lifelike body part
sculptures--eyes, noses, nipples, etc.--all contained within a
claustrophobic underground room. But the blind man inevitably tires of
his sculptures, and so kidnaps the alluring model Ranko. The blind beast
shuts her away in the underground room, and the two become enmeshed in
an increasingly psychotic morass of desire and madness until the blind
man inevitably kills Ranko.
Much of the remainder of the story follows the
blind beast as he ensnares subsequent victims. His services as a
masseuse become quite popular among the local female populace, and the
blind man manages to lure several women into his sculpture room for
further banquets of perversion and dismemberment.
Yes, the whole thing is every bit as arrestingly
bizarre as it sounds. You can also be sure that Edogawa Rampo’s
conviction and narrative savvy hold it together. His fevered imagination
and tight prose (ably translated by Anthony Whyte) add up to a wholly
unique reading experience at once artful and sleazy.
TEENAGE TIMBERWOLVES: LUST FOR LIGHTNING
by JAMES HAVOC and DANIELE SERRA is a relentless
psychotic nightmare in the form of a graphic novel. Its headliner is
Billy the Wolf Boy, a homicidal shape-shifter reincarnated from a
depraved 18th Century French libertine. In his latest
incarnation Billy is a lightning-addicted graveyard-dweller who runs
with a crowd known as the Teenage Timberwolves, whose ranks include
Caril, Billy’s like-minded girlfriend, and Yuki, a Samurai trained
Japanese woman turned paid assassin for the Hell’s Angles.
This unspeakably demented epic also features a serial
killer who’s declared war on women after having his left testicle
devoured by a whore, radical feminists residing in a house made of men’s
putrefied eyeballs, and what may be the first and only depiction I’ve
encountered of electric chair sex.
James Havoc is among the most extreme writers there is,
and has reemerged after a decade of inactivity with this unforgettable
work, stunningly visualized by Daniele Serra. The
stream-of-consciousness narrative freely incorporates poetry,
innumerable cultural and historical touchstones, and a greater
succession of depraved acts than any sane person could possibly
conjecture. The colorful and appropriately slip-streamy artwork all-but
drips dementia, with nearly every page literally spattered with blood.
Obviously this volume isn’t for everybody, but for those of you who can
appreciate a work of extreme psychosexual imagination pushed to its
absolute breaking point, welcome to Nirvana.
The “Bizarro” fiction movement kicked into
overdrive in 2009. One of its standout releases was the dark-humored
by ADAM PEPPER
(Eraserhead Press). Predicated on the idea that “there simply aren’t
enough positive role models for our young, developing fetuses today,”
the narrative pivots on an unborn male fetus who discovers, to its great
annoyance, that its mother wants it aborted.
That mother, one Sue Ellen, is a white
trash-to-the-nth-power bitch stuck with three kids. She doesn’t want a
fourth rug rat, and attempts to have it removed--the fetus itself,
however, has no intention of leaving its mother’s womb. An irrepressible
trash talker (like mother like fetus), it christens itself “Super Fetus”
and takes to working out so it can withstand the force of the
The opening pages, contrasting the fed-up fetus’s
first-person observations--“Wah. Wah. Wah. Bitch. Bitch. Bitch…For
ten fucking months now I’ve been listening to this!”--with its
mother trying to shower while one of her brats pisses on the floor
nearby, adequately set the tone. If you flinch here I strongly doubt
you’ll enjoy the rest of this novella, which includes generous doses of
graphic sexuality, foul language and general bad behavior by a cast of
uniformly vile and moronic characters.
THE ASS GOBLINS OF AUSCHWITZ by
CAMERON PIERCE (Eraserhead Press) is a typical Bizarro
offering, being a freewheeling novella-length account of an alternate
universe holocaust where children are snatched from an enchanted land by
Nazi Ass Goblins (so named because their torsos consist of giant asses
with eyestalks). The kids are imprisoned in Auschwitz, where they’re put
to work making toys and bicycles (whose tires are made of brains) while
undergoing all manner of torture at the hands of the Ass Goblins;
atrocities include being forced to eat the faces of murdered children
and anal invasion by horny toilet toads. The protagonist, one half of a
pair of conjoined twins, eventually leads a revolution against the Ass
Goblins, and in the process meets the most hideous monstrosity of all:
ASS GOBLINS begins in interesting and compelling
fashion but fizzles out entirely by the end--and no, it’s never as
offensive or disturbing as you might expect given the subject matter,
reading like nothing so much as LORD HORROR LITE.
Another recent Bizarro publication is
BRADLEY SANDS IS A DICK (Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens),
a 44-page anthology of short (as in 1-3 pages) stories by several
members of the Bizarro cartel, edited by ANDERSON PRUNTY and
BRADLEY SANDS. All the tales are titled “Bradley Sands is a Dick,”
and all are (or at least were apparently supposed to be) about one
Bradley Sands, and how/why he’s a dick!
The contents are certainly bizarre, but also
excessively in-jokey and self satisfied. My favorite stories were those
by Jordan Krall (who imagines Mr. Sands as the resurrected corpse of
Carlton Mellick III (in which Brad instigates an epidemic of
noses growing out of peoples’ asses), Garrett Cook (in whose tale
Bradley Sands does indeed turn out to be a giant penis), and Katy
Wimhurst (who somehow manages to drag Milan Kundera and Alfred Jarry
into her account).
MORBID CURIOSITY CURES THE BLUES, edited By LOREN
RHOADS (Scribner), contains 41 articles culled from the zine MORBID
CURIOSITY, consisting of confessions by real people about their bizarre
professions, dark desires and odd experiences.
M. Parfait’s “Why” relates how the author’s kid brother
created a grid he wiped boogers on, leading to a most unexpected
occurrence. In “The Barbie Wrecking Yard” Michael Hemmingson recalls the
pervy modifications he and a girl cousin made to her Barbie dolls, while
in “This is A Very Old Scar” Dorian Katz describes being assaulted one
morning and coming to with the front of her skull bashed in (we get a
close-up photo of the still-nasty scar).
R.N. Taylor’s “A Night in the House of Dr. Moreau” is
about what happened when the author stumbled onto an animal testing lab.
The book’s editor Loren Rhoads follows with “No Spill Blood,” about her
brief employment in another such laboratory. “Prelude and Fugue State
for Roadkill” details a bizarre accident involving a severely maimed man
and a truck full of roadkill, and “Be Careful What you ask For…”
provides the requisite I-Saw-A-UFO story.
The book’s most horrific piece is T.M. Gray’s “Slippery
Little Devil,” perhaps the most graphic account of waking up during
one’s own surgery that I’ve ever read. Dalton Graham’s “Needles in the
Spine” describes the none-too-pleasant experience of being treated for a
herniated disk, and Leilah Wendell contributes “Love Among the Tombs,” a
passionate screed about the joys of necrophilia.
Frightening, grotesque and fascinating are fitting
adjectives for a collection guaranteed to satisfy anyone’s curiosity,
morbid or otherwise.
As much as I dug Henry Selick’s film
wasn’t too jazzed by CORALINE: A VISUAL COMPANION by STEPHEN
JONES (William Morrow). It’s a profusely illustrated hardcover
volume about the making of the film, and just as you’d expect: trite,
studio-approved and pitched at a 10-year-old reading level. Jones gives
us a brief history of the
Neil Gaiman source book, which the
author initially conceived as a lark to please his children only to have
it become one of his best-loved works. Henry Selick then spent several
years developing it for the screen, ending up with the most ambitious
claymation film ever.
There are tons of interviews with the film’s principal
creators, who offer the requisite praise for the project and their
fellow collaborators, all of whom were apparently united in their
incredible passion, dedication and hard work (this is the only place
you’re likely to find the acting of Terry Hatcher described as
“absolutely amazing”). The most interesting section comes at the end,
when Jones looks at other adaptations of Gaiman’s text, including a
graphic novel by P. Craig Russell and a stage production with puppets.
Otherwise, though, you can safely skip this book in favor of the DVD
GHOSTLY TALES OF ROUTE 66: ARKANSAS TO ARIZONA
by CONNIE WILSON (Quixote Press) is a collection of
fact-based ghost stories from various parts of the legendary Route 66,
situated between Arkansas and Arizona. The approach is quite unique,
combining a personal travelogue (complete with photos of the author at
many of the locations cited) with a historical and folkloric compendium.
The book commences with a quick history of the “Mother
Road,” a highway that began with the Fort Smith to California Road and
culminated in Route 66. Included are accounts of Isaac Parker, the
hanging judge of Fort Smith, Arkansas; Oklahoma’s Fort El Reno, a
military depot where several ghosts apparently reside; and the Cadillac
Ranch of Amarillo, Texas, where the apparition of an Indian boy is said
to be afoot.
Whether you buy into the author’s claims of ghostly
presences or not, GHOSTS OF ROUTE 66 is an enjoyable trip down one of
America’s most iconic routes. But as charming as this book is, the same
author has written a far superior 2010 collection entitled
DAMNATION that I strongly recommend!
Those of you in the under-twenty set may not
fully recall of the April 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in
Littleton, CO, and the incredible impact the event had on American
culture. As one who researched the case extensively and published
several articles on it, the new book COLUMBINE by DAVE CULLIN
(Twelve), published on the tenth anniversary of the
bloodbath, was quite a bombshell.
Cullin was one of the first journalists on the scene of
the massacre and has been studying the case ever since. His conclusions,
laid out in this book, directly contradict nearly everything we thought
we knew about the Columbine shootout. For one thing, the shooters,
teenage Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, were not the social outcasts
they’ve been portrayed as, and nor were they obsessed with violent video
games. As elucidated by Cullin, the truth was far scarier: Eric Harris
was a psychopath and Klebold a depressed follower who all-too-readily
fell under Harris’ dangerous spell.
Other popular myths Dave Cullin deflates: that Klebold
and Harris were part of a “Trenchcoat Mafia” (such a “Mafia” existed but
they weren’t in on it) and that a girl professed her faith prior to
being shot (which eyewitnesses deny). Naturally this book has caused a
fair amount of controversy, which is to its credit. Bottom line: if you
have any interest in the Columbine massacre than you simply MUST
I don’t know in what category to put THE RED
BOOK by CARL JUNG (W.W. Norton & Company). It’s a
massive hardcover consisting of text and pictures drafted by the late
Carl Jung back in the 1940s, based on a series of dreams and visions
Jung experienced as a young man. The artwork has a bold, primitive
quality, not unlike pages from a medieval manuscript, while the text,
presented in its original German language with English translations
contained at the end of the book, is as dense and confounding as nearly
anything I’ve read.
I’ll confess I haven’t read the whole thing cover to
cover, but then I don’t believe there are too many people who have. It’s
a difficult book, to say the least, a minutely described succession of
abstract visions akin to surrealism. The difference, of course, is that
surrealism isn’t supposed to be understood, whereas Jung’s every phrase
has a very specific meaning…but it’s left entirely up to the reader to
figure it all out.
Looking Ahead to ‘10
The new year definitely looks promising.
Forthcoming is the novel
HORNS by JOE HILL, which
I’ve read and admired. It arrives in February, as does A
DARK MATTER by PETER STRAUB, and the “Weird Western”
BLACK HILLS by DAN SIMMONS. The following month will see the
long-awaited bow of WILLIAM PETER BLATTY’S new novel DIMITER
and the mass market edition of the above-mentioned
CREATURES OF THE
POOL by RAMSEY CAMPBELL.
Other interesting-looking 2010 releases include the
Creation Books publication DREAM SPECTRES, a compilation of
extreme Japanese art from the 19th Century with text by
JACK HUNTER; the HARRISON HOWE edited anthology DARKNESS
ON THE EDGE, consisting of horror stories inspired by Bruce
Springsteen tunes(!); and VIATOR PLUS, a new collection by the
inimitable LUCIUS SHEPARD.
Yes, I’ll definitely be checking out these and many
more books in 2010. Here’s hoping you do too, although you should still
seek out the worthy 2009 publications outlined above (if you haven’t
already). There were some strong books printed in the past year, as I
think this article demonstrates--do look ahead, but don’t let that stop
you from sampling the goodness of what came before!